Date: Sun, 10 Mar 96 00:20:00 UTC 0000
Copyright (c) 1995 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 10 - Nov 23 to Dec 6 Andrews, SC to Jacksonville, FL- 3949 miles cumulative
Thanksgiving in Andrews did not turn out as we had hoped. We had hoped to find a nice medium sized town with a good restaurant and motel and a pretty downtown area to explore. Andrews was none of the above. In fact it was one of the strangest towns we've seen in quite a while. As you ride into town there is a big sign saying "Welcome to Andrews, A Friendly Town." But we found it to be one of the least friendly small towns we've ever been in. In the restaurants people were courteous but curt and they kept staring at us. As we walked down the street people passing by in their cars would also stare at us like we were some strange alien beings. When we wandered down to the predominently black section people gave us looks saying that we did not belong nd one woman even tried to beg a dollar off us. The final straw was the owner of the family dollar store who followed us around as we shopped making it very clear he did not trust us.
There also seemed to be little or no civic pride. There was no town park, no holiday decorations on the lamp posts, lots of boarded up store fronts, and even the remains of a decapitated dog lay by the railroad tracks for the entire time we were there. No one seemed to even have enough pride to go clean it up. It was an old town with an atmosphere that absolutely reeked of old hates, suspicions, and prejudices. If it hadn't been Thanksgiving and we hadn't been in desparate need of a day off the bikes we would not have stayed so long. As it was, we were quite relieved to get out of town the next day. Although we never did get a good Thanksgiving dinner since the only homestyle cooking restaurant in town was closed. We were stuck with fried chicken and fries.
Throughout our travels we've found that, for good or bad, certain towns really stick out in our memories. I'm afraid Andrews will be one of those. Yet often the very next town a mere 10 to 50 miles away will be completely opposite. In this case upon our first arrival in the town of Moncks Corner we were looking for a phone book. Without even having to ask, a man outside garage offered the use of his. The woman at the Swan Fox Inn was all smiles and suggestions for places to eat and a lady at a drug store couldn't have been any brighter when she wished us a good day. Itf we hadn't experienced the change ourselves it would have been hard to believe that Moncks Corner and Andrews were in the same state much less only 50 miles apart.
One good thing did come out of our stay in Andrews (she says while trying to find that siver lining). On Thanksgiving we happened to watch a program on the TV that was about a group of 6 handicapped bike riders who rode around the world. Their handicaps ranged from a complete parapalegic to a leg amputee. They were fully supported by a couple of vans and sponsored by an insurance company. So the logistics of dealing with such countries as the former Soviet Union, Mongolia and China were all handled. They just had to get up and ride each day. Yet despite all this support even this group often found themselves in really tough situations and ready to quit riding. The goal of completing the entire globe kept them going.
Well, we had been having an argument about the value of riding through the southeast. Brian spent quite a bit of time there when he was growing up and really would prefer riding somewhere else. As I have been learning the scenery in North and South Carolina is mostly swamps, except for the Outer Banks. The people are nice but not very open as they are in the west. And the riding is so flat that it's practically boring. On flat terrain you end up grinding on the crank for hour after hour with absolutely no breaks. At least with hills there are opportunities to glide. Finally, we've been riding extremely hard essentially chasing the warm weather. A race we sometimes seem to be winning and at others losing.
I really wanted to continue riding through this region because I felt that to truly know and understand this country one really needs to experience every part. Even areas that aren't quite so appealing, biking wise.
So we had planned to continue south on bikes to Ft. Meyers, Fl and then rent a car for 2 to 3 weeks to explore south Fl and Disneyworld. This would mean returning to the bikes in mid January and then make a mad dash for Alaska. Well, a couple of things were becoming rather apparent:
(1) Florida in the winter is really, really expensive. After spending a good $1500 in Alexandria on doctors appointments and equipment, we were beginning to wonder whether we really could afford to spend more on cars, campgrounds, and food in such an expensive place at this time. (2)Florida in the winter is crowded. Ever since the end of September we've had the state and national parks practically to ourselves. Often we've literally moved into the heated bathrooms for the evening for dinner and reading. We are spoiled and not quite ready to share our campgrounds with the rest of the world just yet. (3)We finally have an opportunity to catch up with the weather. Ever since Illinois we've felt that no matter how much we rode, we were still not quite in sync with the changing seasons. If we had had the choice we would have been about one month further ahead. Well, riding down south through Florida would take about a month to complete. (4)We needed to establish a common goal. I've been working with small goals, get to Virginia, get to Florida, etc. Brian, on the other hand, really hadn't established any goals. After he watched the program on the 6 disabled bikers he realized that what he really needs is some sort of goal, something he can keep in his heart and mind for those times when the value of riding through a certain area seems hard to understand.
So after a long night of deep thought, Brian announces he's come up with a new route/goal that would be acceptable to both of us and would resolve all these issues. Our goal would be to complete the perimeter of the contiguous U.S., with the inclusion of the first coast-to-coast route we did 7 years ago. For this winter we would ride the southern coast-to-coast route, Jacksonville, Fl to San Diego, Ca. This means skipping southern and central Fl for now. We'll return sometime later to explore this area when we're not so late in the year. We'll ride to Alaska in the summer of 96, do the west coast in the winter of 96, and finish the east coast in the summer of 97. This plan gives us 4 months to ride the 2600 miles from Fl to Ca which means at long last we can relax, take our time, and wander where ever our whims may lead us. On the one hand it's quite disappointing to miss Disneyworld, Epcot Center, and a visit with Brian's sister and nieces. But finally getting away from this feeling of continual pushing will more than make up for it.
The weather continued to warm as we made our way further south through dense swamps, past old, small ranch style homes in a variety states of repair, and those huge umbrella trees dripping with that gray/green Spanish moss that gives the south that mysterious, haunted Halloween feeling. Oh and there were lots and lots of small cemetaries, in front of houses, by churches, or just by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. After a couple weeks we have concluded that the folks in the south east must be the worlds largest consumers of plastic flowers. All for arrangements to decorate the graves. Nearly every grave has some sort of arrangement on, in front, or to the side of the head stone. They were all a little too huge, a little too bright, and a little too perfect. Plastic flowers would certainly look a little better if they just included a few small flaws. We did have to wonder just what those household cemetaries would do to the resale value of a house. "Well you can buy this house with one small catch. You get the late Aunt Hildie, Uncle Gerald, Josaphine, Jenny, Micheal, and Darene as well." These houses must stay in one family forever and ever.
As we continued toward Georgia it seemed as though the people became increasingly friendly. Our last town in S. Carolina was Robertsville, birthplace of Henry Martyn Robert author of Roberts Rules of Order. After that we started a long climb over the Savanah River bridge and we entered Georgia. Immediatly started seeing waves from behind the wheels of the cars, people started asking us about our travels again, and one man slowed down in his car to ask us where we were going. In one small, scantily stocked store the owner even took a few minutes away from his favorite soap opera to find out what we were up to. Yes men do watch the soaps sometimes. Employees at The Bike Shop in Statesboro where we stopped to pick up a bottle of our favorite chain lubricant, White Lightening, were real helpfull and the employees of the Gordonia Alatamaha State Park made us feel like members of their family. Georgia in general seems to be very good at encouraging biking. Even the state park literature specifically mentions bike touring as a great way to see the parks.
Riding in Georgia also proved to be an absolute pleasure. The route took us inland, away from the touristy, busy coast. The roads had very slight rolling hills, went through farm country, were all well paved, and had almost no traffic what so ever. We'd see a car perhaps once every 20 to 30 minutes. If it weren't for the fact that we had a lot of headwinds, not strong but certainly enough to make for long riding days, the riding would have been among the best we've ever experienced. All in all we'd have to say we liked the Georgian roads, people, towns, and parks. We would definitly recommend riding there.
In the town of Reidsville we stopped to get our mail and then headed out to the Gordonia Altamaha State Park (named after a tree of all things) for the evening. It was there that we met our first bike tourist since Illinois, Wynn Davis. Wynn was a retired janitor probably in his late 60s whose wife had recently passed away. So he decided to pack a few belongings on his bike and take off touring for a while. He had taken a train from his home town, Philidelphia, to Orlando, Fl. From there he rode down to Key West, back up through the middle of the state and over to the coast at Jacksonville, and now he was headed back to Philadelphia with a stop at Ft. Bragg in N. Carolina over Christmas to visit his son. A small man both in height and stature, with grey hair, those aging grey/blue eyes and a fairly large nose, he was the most minimalist bike tourer we've ever seen. He had a tiny handle bar bag, two small rear panniers, and a bed and tent roll. He carried only 2 sets of riding clothes, thermal underwear, sweat suit, rain suit, a nylon suit, a tiny tent, sleeping bag, mess kit, and Whisperlite stove. No extras, no luxuries. He had been on the road for over a month and seemed quite happy, but I'm afraid I still appreciate having a few extra goodies even if it means added weight. Wynn just looked at our bikes and commented, "I thought you said you sold the house." Well, each to his own.
What amazed us the most was the fact that even though it was the end of November and the weather had already turned quite cold, Wynn was headed north. He barely had any warm clothes and his sleeping bag was rated to only 40 degrees. We kept telling him that he's going the wrong way. But he mentioned he's found that touring alone gets to be quite lonely after a while. So perhaps he's anxious to get back north to his family and friends. For his sake and our's, we sure hope the weather stays reasonably warm. We still think he's nuts, though.
Well, for us, the road continued south toward Florida and nice warm weather. At long last the daytime temperatures started peaking at the mid 70s. But the nights continued to be cold, 40 to 50. One of the things we found difficult to deal was all the moisture in this swamp filled area. During the day the air fills with water as the temperatures climb. Then as the temps drop, every drop of water is squeezed out of the air right on top of our tent. Each morning we'd wake up to a tent that was just as wet as it would be if it had absolutely poured all night long, both outside and inside the tent. As the sun started to warm the tent we'd go through a rushed ritual of getting everything packed into bags as the water inside the tent would start to drop giving us our own personal rain shower. We were lucky if we could get everything reasonably dry and packed to go by 11 AM. Though, even with such late starts we were still able to ride for 45 miles or more.
In southeast Georgia we decided to take a day to visit the Okefenokee swamp. I just love that name, Ooooo-keeeeee-fe-nooooo-keeeeee. It brings to mind maw and paw sitting out on their aligater skin festooned front porch with all the good ole boys drinking their moonshine from the still hidden in some back corner and telling tall tales of the 25 ft gator that nearly chewed their canoe in half. The uniform of the day would be blue jean coveralls, plaid flannel shirt, and work boots covered in mud. But, alas, the days of the hardy soul braving the elements of the swamp is long gone. Now it's a wildlife preserve and there's no touching the animals.
Actually, aligator poaching used to be quite a problem back in the days when aligator shoes, handbags, belts, and so on were popular. But with the decline in the popularity of these items, poaching became much less a problem. It's funny, the environmental folks are quick to credit the Endangered Species Act with saving the aligator. But, in reality it's good old supply and demand economics that saved them. It's exactly what happened to the beaver. If it weren't for the fact that silk top hats became more popular than beaver, there wouldn't be a single beaver left in this country.
Okefenokee actually is the Indian word for "land of trembling ground" which describes the sort of islands of trees in the swamps. All the decaying plant matter sinks to the bottom of the water where microscopic little beasties break it down. The output from the swamp beasties is methane gas. Sometimes as the methane gas gets trapped under some of the decaying peat and bears the whole mass to the surface. Seeds land, grasses grow, trees eventually take root, and voila you have a floating island that trembles and rocks. Hence the name. If it weren't for occasional fires that eat right through the peat island, or battery as they're called, the Okefenokee would just be another hasbeen, once was, swamp.
It almost did become a hasbeen swamp. In 1891 this lawyer got the idea he could make a bunch of money from timber and land sales if he could just drain the swamp. After all, such swamp drainage projects worked quite well in the northern Ohio region near the Great Lakes. So he convinced a bunch of investers to build a drainage ditch from the swamp to the St. Mary river. The project went well, for a while. But when trying to top the ridge between the swamp and river they hit several springs. The water from the springs flowed back into the swamp. This gave rise to the conclusion that even if the ditch was finished, the water from the St. Mary would flow into the swamp, rather than the other way. So the effort was abandoned and the shares in the canal company became worthless pieces of paper and the swamp was saved to become a wildlife preserve today. Now, just imagine what would have heppened if they had started digging from the St. Mary first. The swamp probably would have been drained and there would be farms throughout the region. Just imagine if the drainage project in northern Ohio had hit such problems. It'd probably be a wildlife preserve now.
We did get to meet our first aligator at the Okefenokee. He was a young-un, just about 7 ft long, lazily floating away in the boat dock area. I happened across him as I walked over to the dock's edge and looked down. I just about jumped out of my skin as I quickly realized this floating, green, scaley looking thing was not just a log. I was quite glad to be safely up on the dock. Imagine if you climbed in one of the boats only to look into the water to see this rather interesting looking critter within 6 inches of your face. Now that would surely get me out of my seat in a hurry.
During our stay near the swamp we met two more of those retired, RV traveling couples. One woman was out hiking on the boardwalk to the swamp overlook observation tower when we happened by. We got to talking and after a while she told us they had recently "sold their house, sold their furniture, and told the kids get a life." They climbed into their RV and now plan to spend a couple years traveling around the U.S. The other couple, Ken and Cathy Khelr had pulled into the Trader Hills Rec area while we were at the swamp. With the exception of a lake home in Wisconsin where they spend the summer, they were also living in their RV. We've found there is an entire subculture of retired people living in their RVs and traveling from one spot to another. And these are some of the nicest RVs you've ever seen. Most are practically brand new, many have price tags well over $150K, all are extremely luxurious, most are huge, and all eat gas like there's an infinite supply. Only in the U.S. could this subculture exist since in Europe the cost of gas would make this type of travel far to expensive. These are definitly not those poor senior citizens you hear about in the news.
It was funny, after meeting these two couples in Georgia, we ran into them again in Florida. I guess everybody has the same idea, head south where it's nice and warm.
We made it, at long last Florida. As we stood on the bridge just outside of St. George, Brian pointed to the other side of the "Welcome to Florida" sign saying "this is north and that is south". Never mind that the road we were on happened to be going in an east/west direction. At least now, for the first time in over two months I won't have to listen to that continual grumble, "we have to get south." We are south.
The ACA route took us around the north side of Jacksonville, right to the airport, and then to the Jacksonville beach where we stayed for two nights at the Kathryn Abby Hanna Recreation Area. Now this was probably the most well appointed and lushly landscaped city park we've ever been in. It is located within 1 mile of the Naval base along the busy A1A highway. To get to the park you ride along glass coated sidewalks, the road being too dangerous, past tattoo parlors and nude bars. But as soon as you turn down the park road you enter lush jungle like landscaping filled with palm trees, ferns, and other tropical vines. Flower beds filled with blue pansies and a serene fountain surround the registration building. The campgound has good, clean showers, a great laundry facility, and picnic shelter which came in handy when it started to rain when we were in the middle of making dinner. There were two designated mountain bike trails and two hiking trails well identified with entrance gates. If it weren't so difficult to get to anywhere else outside the park, this would be a great place to spend many days.
The one day we did spend at Jacksonville, we decided to go see the Ft. Caroline National Memorial. Now this proved to be quite a challenge in itself. Ft. Caroline is located on the opposite side of the Intracoastal waterway from the campground. We first attempted to ride over to it. But after coming to the bridge over the waterway, we concluded that it might be wiser to get there by some other means. So we rode back to the campground and tried the bus service. Almost without fail each time we attempt to use the public mass transit to get around in a city we are reminded how woefully inadquate mass transit in the U.S. is. In this case we had to walk the 1 mile from the campground to the park entrance and the bus stop, take two busses to get as close as possible to the memorial, then walk the additional 6 to 7 miles. If we were in Europe there would have been bus stops within 1 mile of both our departure and destination points. But this isn't Europe.
To avoid having to walk the 7 miles back, we managed to catch a ride with one of the rangers. However, this meant having only 1/2 hour to see the fort. So the 2 1/2 hour effort to get to the fort was rewarded with only a 1/2 hour visit. It is times like that when we can see a big advantage to having a car.
The fort, by the way, was an attempt by the French in 1561 to establish a colony in the new world. It was triangular in shape with earthen mounds for two walls and wood for the third. It was fairly small, providing protection for the guns and ammo. The people lived in small palm frond huts outside the walls. Before the French got a real foothold in Florida, the Spanish attacked, killed most of them and drove out the rest. The French thought the area was rightfully theirs while the Spanish considered the colony to be a den of heretic pirates. In this instance the Spanish won the battle. The fort was occupied by the Spanish for only a short while before they concluded it was not ecnoomically advantageous. So they abandoned it.
The ranger told us that the memorial was established in the memory of those brave French men and women who were slaughtered by the Spanish during this battle for territory. Up until about 100 years ago the fort actually still existed. However when increasing the width of the river the increased currents took major chunks of the river bank, including the fort, out to sea. So now there's just a replica for us to see.
Appendix A - Route
Rt 41 S and 402 W to Moncks Corner Backroads to Ridgeville and Ghivens Ferry St. Park Rt 21 and 17 A to Walterboro 17 to Point South Frontage Rd to Coosawatchie 462 to Robertville 321 to Garnett 119 to Georgia state line
119 to Clyo 24 to Statesboro Back roads to Register 199 to 292 to Collins 23/121 to Reidsville 121 to 169 South to Madray Springs Backroads trough Odum to Patterson 32 to 110 to Tarboro 252 to Folkston 121 to 23 to St George
121 N and 108 E to Callahan 115 and back roads around Jacksonville to Mayport
Appendix B - Camp sites, 5
Swamp Fox Inn ($), Ghivens Ferry State Park 2 nights ($), KOA Kampground ($)
Stiles Motel in Statesboro ($), Gordonia Alatahama State Park 2 nights ($), Happy Acres Resort ($), Saatilla River Vacationland ($), Trader Hills Rec Area ($)
Hanna City Park 2 nights ($)
($) indicates fee camping
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.